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January 2019

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition

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This series, entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, will be a feature on this site, running throughout the winter and spring up through the Lent/Easter season of 2019. A number of upcoming articles and daily notes will be devoted to this subject, which, in my view, is central to any proper study of the New Testament. Before proceeding, I would recommend that the reader consult my earlier article in which I discuss the meaning and use of the term “tradition“, as well as the expression “authentic tradition”. When specifically referring to “Gospel tradition”, this may be understood several ways:

  • Traditions related to Jesus which became part of the early Christian preaching and proclamation (kerygma) of what we call the Gospel—the “good news/message” of Christ.
  • Traditions which were combined and integrated to form a core Gospel narrative regarding the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • Traditions which came to be part of the written Gospels, as we have them.

When cited with capital letters—i.e., “Gospel Tradition”—it should be taken to mean that all three elements, or phenomena above, are included for consideration. An important aspect of this study, which I will especially be exploring in this series, is the development of the Gospel tradition. Contrary to the view, perhaps, of some traditional-conservative Christians in generations past, the four (canonical) Gospels as we know them did not come down out of heaven fully formed; rather, they are the product of a definite process of transmission and creative/artistic adaptation. Any serious view of the divine inspiration of the New Testament must take this into account. The three components of Gospel Tradition, listed above, hint at this developmental process; however, I would outline it even more precisely, here below, as follows:

  1. The words and actions of the historical Jesus and his contemporaries
  2. Jesus’ words/actions, etc, passed down (from eye/ear-witnesses) and transmitted orally among the first generation of Christians—i.e. early oral tradition
  3. Collected sayings of Jesus, and stories/episodes involving him, joined together thematically (catchword-bonding, etc) into somewhat larger traditional units—transmitted orally, but early on they began to be written down as well
  4. The first coherent and developed Gospel narratives and other related written texts. Many scholars would include the Gospel of Mark, as well as the so-called “Q” material, in this category (cf. below).
  5. The written Gospels—certainly Luke, Matthew, John, and perhaps others surviving (as fragments) from the 1st century. These larger, more complex works incorporate earlier existing source documents, as well as (perhaps) various developed oral traditions.

Admittedly, this sequence is largely theoretical, but there are many indications of it, I believe, preserved in the text of the Gospels as they have come down to us. Sometimes this requires a little detective work, but, as often as not, the process of development can be traced to some extent. What is unique about the New Testament—and the Gospels in particular—is how quickly this development took place, and how well documented it is, relatively speaking, for us today. If we consider the period of Jesus’ ministry as taking place during the few years around 30 A.D., the Gospels had all come to be written, more or less as we have them, by the end of the first century (c. 80-90 A.D., for the latest of them)—only a generation or two (30-60 years) after the events they record. The vast preserve of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (including a fair number from the 3rd century), along with the many versions (in Latin, Syriac, et al), and scores of citations in the early Church Fathers (2nd-3rd centuries), allows the dedicated scholar the unusual opportunity of studying the Gospels at a level of detail unparalleled for texts from the ancient world.

If we were to consider the five layers above from a chronological standpoint, they would be, roughly speaking:

  • Layer 1: The actual words, etc, of Jesus and the historical events—c. 28-35? A.D.
  • Layer 2: Early oral tradition—the period c. 30-50 A.D.
  • Layer 3: Gospel tradition, collected sayings and narrative units—sometime before 50 A.D.?
  • Layer 4: The first developed Gospel narratives and written texts—c. 50-60 A.D.
  • Layer 5: The written Gospels as we have them—60-90 A.D.

Throughout this series, I will be looking at many examples—passages in the Gospels—where this development may be studied. Why is this important? One of the great failings of a strict traditional-conservative view of Scripture, in the case of the Gospels, is that it tends to treat Layer 1 as essentially identical with Layer 5, often ignoring (or even denying) the layers of development in between. But it can be demonstrated rather clearly, at hundreds of different points, that the Gospels evince various layers of adaptation and interpretation, by which the historical words and events (taken in their concrete, documentary sense) have been transformed into something far greater than a mere stenographic record. I would maintain that any approach which downplays or ignores the developmental (and creative/artistic) process, risks severely misunderstanding and misreading the Gospels. I hope to encourage students of Scriptures, along with all other interested believers, to look at the Gospel narratives in this light, with a fresh perspective, so as to explore more fully the depths of the truth and beauty which they possess.

I begin this study where the Gospels themselves begin, on the whole—with the account of the Baptism of Jesus. This episode, found in all four Gospels (and also in Acts), serves as an interesting and appropriate test case for our examination. This is particularly so since, as we shall see, the narrative of Jesus’ baptism preserves numerous historical details and associations which seem to have largely disappeared from Christian tradition during the first century. On the one hand, this confirms the fundamental historicity of the Gospel tradition(s); on the other, it makes it somewhat easier to distinguish between historical details and elements which possibly indicate an early Christian interpretation of them.

When referring to the four Gospels, in terms of the Gospel Tradition, scholars and commentators generally recognize three main strands: (1) the core Synoptic tradition, represented primarily by Mark; (2) the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke; and (3) Johannine tradition, i.e., traditions preserved only in the Gospel of John.

As a method of study, I will be adopting the following approach whenever possible, examining in sequence:

  • The Synoptic tradition, as recorded in Mark
  • The “Q” material in Matthew-Luke
  • Details unique to Matthew
  • Details unique to Luke
  • Johannine tradition as developed in the Gospel of John

In preparing for the notes dealing with the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition, I will be using the following outline, which, first, isolates three primary components of the Baptism narrative—

  1. The ministry of John
  2. The relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), in comparison with John

and then, secondly, I will explore the place that the Baptism has in the structure of the Synoptic narrative—the two-part division, and the parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes.

The daily notes for this next week will follow the sequence indicated above, beginning with an examination of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:3-6 par).

 

 

January 6: Luke 3:22

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Luke 3:22

The John/Jesus parallel of the Lukan Infancy narrative continues on into the Gospel proper—the account of Jesus’ baptism as narrated in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:2-11 par). The main difference in Luke’s account is that he records the beginning and end of John’s ministry at the same point (cf. the detail in Lk 3:18-20). This effectively clears the way for the introduction of Jesus’ ministry in verse 23. The Lukan narrative describes the baptism of Jesus as part of the process—the people being baptized—but the author also sets Jesus apart from the crowd through a simple syntactical variation. Verses 21-22 utilize a construction e)geneto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + infinitive—which is almost impossible to translate literally in English. The action is described with a succession of infinitives:

  • all the people being dunked [i.e. baptized]
  • the heavens opening up
  • the holy Spirit stepping down upon him {Jesus}
  • a voice out of heaven coming to be

John the Baptist is a transitional figure, between the Old Covenant and the New, associated specifically with the Prophets (1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4-6; 7:26-28)—the completion of the Age of the Law and the Prophets (16:16 par). As discussed at numerous points in the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus was seen as fulfilling the types and forms of the Old Covenant—and this process is completed with the baptism. In Matthew’s account, this expressed in terms of fulfilling the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God (“so it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, Matt 3:15). In Luke’s version of the baptism scene, Jesus is among the crowd coming to be baptized, but is still set apart:

“And it came to be, among all the people being dunked, and (with) Yeshua being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the heaven opening up and the holy Spirit stepping down upon him in bodily appearance as a dove, and a voice coming to be (from) out of heaven, (this voice said)…”

There is a definite Messianic significance to the baptism scene in Luke-Acts, indicated by several points:

  • The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (4:18 [Isa 61:1f], cf. verse 1, 14)
  • The declaration of Jesus as God’s Son, especially in light of Psalm 2:7 (cf. below)
  • The parallel declaration in the Transfiguration scene
  • The gospel statement in Acts 10:37-38

While these are common to the Synoptic tradition, several of the details are given greater emphasis in the Lukan account.

The Voice from Heaven

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions: “You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”. There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (cf. below). However, in Codex Bezae [D], along with several Old Latin MSS and writings of the Church Fathers, the voice in Lk 3:22 actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). The title “Beloved” (a)gaphto/$) in the Old Testament (LXX) tradition is associated especially with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12; for a similar context, cf. Amos 8:10; Zech 12:10). For more on the text-critical issue in 3:22, cf. my note from a previous Christmas season.

The Transfiguration

The Messianic significance of the corresponding scene at the Transfiguration is due, in large part, to its position in the Synoptic narrative, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Anointed One (9:20) and Jesus’ first prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). We also have the identification of Jesus with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). In many MSS, the heavenly voice in 9:35 matches that of the majority text of 3:22; however, the best reading shows a slight difference:

“You are my Son, the One Gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One]; I have good thought/consideration in you”

The title e)klelegme/no$, parallel to a)gaphto/$ in 3:22, more properly aligns the declaration with the (Messianic) Servant song of Isa 42:1ff. A related title e)klekto/$ is used in 23:35, in close connection with xristo/$ (“Anointed One”); cf. also the variant reading in Jn 1:34, where it is used with the title “Son of God”.

Son of God

Drawing upon the earlier discussion of Jesus’ saying in Lk 2:49 (cf. the previous note), we may outline three ways of understanding Jesus as God’s Son in 3:22:

  • Identification with the people of Israel as God’s “Son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1, etc). Jesus’ participation with the people in baptism may be intended to bring out such an association—cp. Lk 1:77 with Matt 1:21 (2:13-15ff).
  • The Messiah (the Davidic Ruler) as God’s Son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12-16, etc)
  • Sonship in terms of exalted, heavenly position and status. In early Christian tradition, the use of Messianic Psalm passages such as Ps 2:7; 110:1 were applied to Jesus in the context of his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). Eventually, this was also understood in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

The parallel declaration in 9:35 suggests that the second option is the one primarily in view. According to Gospel tradition (cf. Acts 10:37-38), it was at the baptism that Jesus was (first) identified as the “Anointed One”, though the title was applied directly only with Peter’s confession (9:20).

The Geneaology in 3:23ff

The Lukan situation is complicated by the peculiar insertion of Jesus’ genealogy at 3:23, directly following the baptism account. Essentially, it serves to introduce Jesus at the time of the beginning of his (public) ministry, but it plays on the same idea of sonship addressed in 2:49. There, Joseph was referred to as Jesus’ parent (vv. 41, 48a) or father (v. 48b), establishing the contrast with the saying of v. 49, where Jesus identifies God as his Father. In a similar way, the genealogy of 3:23 is introduced:

“And Yeshua {Jesus} (him)self, beginning (his ministry), was as though (about) thirty years (old), being the son, as it was thought/considered, of Yoseph…”

The genealogy—his legal ancestry through Joseph—continues through verse 38, all the way back to the first human being (cf. the Genesis creation account):

“…the (son) of Enosh, the (son) of Seth, the (son) of Adam, the (son) of God”

The line is thus traced back to God himself, God the Father (Yahweh/El). This turns out to be a very clever way for the author to restate the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God”. It should be noted that the word “son” (ui(o/$) is only implied, and is not actually present throughout the genealogy of vv. 24-38. Nevertheless, the basic concept is certainly there—Jesus’ true genealogy goes back to God. A literal treatment of vv. 23-38 would simply indicate Jesus’ common human heritage—of the people Israel, stretching back through their ancestors to the Creation. But the author’s actual emphasis is on the point of contrast—Jesus was only the son of Joseph in a conventional (and legal) sense; his true sonship is divine. The framework of the Gospel narrative means that the author (trad. Luke) did not really bring out this aspect of Jesus’ sonship until after the resurrection and exaltation. Yet it is certainly foreshadowed earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:32-35; 2:41-50) and here at the baptism.

January 6th was the older date commemorating the birth of Jesus in the Eastern Church. It was referred to as Epiphany (e)pifa/neia), or, more properly, Theophany (qeofa/neia), the manifestation (“shining forth”) of God on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. When Dec 25 was adopted in the East, Jan 6 came to be devoted more exclusively to a celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. For more on this important theme in Eastern (Syrian) tradition, see my earlier Jan 6 note.

January 5: Luke 2:49

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Luke 2:49

Today’s note looks at the final episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative (vv. 41-50), and, in particular, the saying of Jesus in verse 49. I have discussed this in some detail during a prior Christmas season series of notes, and will not repeat all of that analysis here. Today I will be examining the saying from the standpoint of the current series—in terms of the names and titles of Jesus, especially that of “Son (of God)”. This is a title that really only occurs in the Annunciation scene, twice, in 1:32 and 35:

“He [i.e. the child Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’…” (v. 32)
“therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no suggestion of it in the birth narrative itself, not even in the Angelic announcement to the shepherds, which otherwise makes use of exalted (and Messianic) language. For the remainder of the Infancy narrative proper, Jesus is referred to in realistic (human) terms as the “baby” (bre/fo$) or “(little) child” (paidi/on)—cf. 2:12, 16, 17, 27. To the extent that Jesus’ sonship is mentioned, it is entirely in reference to his human parents, Joseph and Mary (2:22-23, 27, 39, 41ff, 51). Verse 51a, in particular, emphasizes how Jesus was submissive to his parents, as a dutiful son—and this, in spite of the declaration in v. 49 (cf. below).

It is only here, in the account of this episode of Jesus at the age of twelve, that there is any kind of tension between Jesus as the son of Joseph/Mary and his identity as the Son of God. The realistic detail of the narrative brings out the human familial relationship:

  • The repeated mention of Jesus’ parents (gonei=$) in vv. 41, 43 (cf. also 48, 51). The word, which literally relates to a child coming-to-be (i.e. born), is used generally, even when it is a matter of legal (rather than biological) parentage.
  • The cultural setting of the pilgrimage festival (Passover)—vv. 41-42
  • The traveling caravan of relatives and friends (v. 44)
  • The parental concern (and rebuke) expressed by Mary (v. 48, cf. vv. 44-45)
  • The specific reference to Joseph as Jesus’ father, and Mary as his mother (vv. 38, 51b)

Set within this narrative framework is the central detail of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem, while the rest of his family had set off on their return trip (vv. 43-44). When Joseph and Mary find him again, after three days’ searching and travel, Jesus is said to be

“in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], sitting in the middle of the ones teaching [i.e. Teachers], both hearing them and asking them (question)s” (v. 46b)

Pious tradition has interpreted this scene as Jesus himself teaching the adult teachers, but there really is little (if any) indication of this in the text. There is no reason to see Jesus here as anything other than an interested pupil, albeit one most gifted, with a special understanding of the Scriptures and the Law (Torah). The general location is important to the symbolism of the scene, as Jesus is sitting “in the middle [e)n me/sw|] of the ones teaching”. The emphasis is not on Jesus’ position (i.e. student vs. teacher) but on exactly where he is located—among those teaching/discussing the Law of God. This is significant when we come to Jesus’ saying (v. 49), in response to his mother’s rebuke:

“(For) what [i.e. why] did you do this to us? See, your father and I, being distressed, (have been) search(ing for) you!” (v. 48)

“(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that you (are) search(ing for) me? Did you not see [i.e. know] that it is necessary for me to be among the (thing)s of my Father?” (v. 49)

The contrast between “your father and I” (Joseph/Mary) and “my Father” (God/Yahweh) is certainly clear. Even more interesting is the notice that Joseph and Mary had been searching among the things of their relatives and neighbors, rather than among the “things of God”. This parallel is generally lost in translation, but a literal rendering of the Greek brings it out:

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
    among the (thing)s of the ones coming to be together (with them) and the ones known (to them) [i.e. relatives and acquaintances]”
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)
    among the (thing)s of my Father”

Jesus’ phrase is often translated “in my Father’s house”, but it should be noted that the word corresponding to “house” (oi@ko$), i.e. the Temple as God’s house, is not present. If the author (or Jesus as the speaker) wanted to emphasize the Temple precincts or building as such, it would have been easy enough to do. More accurate would be “in the household of my Father”—i.e. the “things” referring to household belongings (like the belongings of the caravan in v. 44), generally and collectively. Such an interpretation must also include the people—that is, those spending time in the Temple, devoted to the Scriptures and the “things of God” (cf. the description of Simeon and Anna in vv. 25-27, 37-38).

With regard to the precise meaning of the expression “my Father” by Jesus, we must consider three possibilities:

  • His identification with the faithful/righteous of Israel as God’s “Son”—cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6; Isa 43:6; 64:8; Hos 1:10; 11:1; Jer 31:19; Wisd 2:16-18; 18:13, etc. This association is much more direct in the Matthean Infancy narrative, Matt 1:21; 2:13-15ff, but note the positioning of the Lukan genealogy which follows in 3:23ff.
  • As a firstborn child consecrated to the service of God. The parallels with the Samuel story, that run through the Lukan narrative (cf. 1:46-47ff; 2:22ff, 40, 52, etc), make it highly likely that this aspect of the scene is intended by the author. While Samuel would spend his childhood in the Temple precincts, this can only be represented symbolically in the case of Jesus, who otherwise grew up with his parents in Nazareth (vv. 39, 51-52; 4:16ff).
  • As the unique Son of God in something like the orthodox Christological sense. This is hinted at already in the Angelic annunciation, though the parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246 (cf. the earlier discussion) should caution us against reading a developed Christology too quickly into this passage. Overall, the emphasis—in both Luke 1:32-35 and 4Q246—would appear to be Messianic. The situation is, I should say, somewhat different in the baptism scene which follows in Lk 3:21-22. And this will be discussed further in the next note, the final one of this Christmas season series.

January 4: Luke 2:40, 52

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Luke 2:40, 52

In the concluding note to the main Lukan Infancy narrative (2:39-40), we find summarized a primary theme which occurs throughout the narrative, but is especially emphasized in 2:21ff (cf. the earlier note):

“And as they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] completed all the (thing)s according to the Law of the Lord, they turned back into the Galîl {Galilee} into their own city Nazaret.” (v. 39)

The fulfillment of the Law is characteristic of the faithful ones of Israel, and Jesus is born into this environment. Verse 40 provides an initial narrative summary of the child’s growth and development; as such, it is the first indication of his fulfilling the destiny marked by his name (and naming). It also concludes the John/Jesus parallel in the narrative (note the comparison with 1:80):

  • John: “And the child grew and (became) strong in (the) spirit…” (1:80)
  • Jesus: “And the child grew and (became) strong…” (2:40)

Lk 2:40 adds the following detail: “…filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him”. There is very much an echo here of the statements of the child Samuel’s growth in 1 Sam 2:21, 26 (cf. also with regard to Moses, in Josephus Antiquities 2.228-31). The statement that “the favor of God was upon him” is similar to that regarding John in 1:66—”the hand of the Lord was with him”. There is some question whether the “spirit” (pneu=ma) in 1:80 refers to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, or to “spirit” generally. In verse 15, there is a reference to John being filled with the Holy Spirit, but the expression e)n pneu/mati (“in [the] spirit”) in verse 16 refers to a special prophetic spirit—”in (the) spirit and power of Elijah“. Most likely, the latter is intended in v. 80, especially in light of the concluding statement: “…and he was in the desert (place)s until the day of his showing up toward Israel”.

In the case of Jesus, there is greater likelihood that the Spirit (of God) is in view. There is often a close connection between Wisdom and the Spirit; note the similarity of language:

  • “he will be filled by the holy Spirit” (1:15)
  • “being filled with wisdom” (2:40)

The two are brought together in the famous Messianic passage of Isa 11:1-4ff (verse 2):

“And the Spirit of YHWH will rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…”

Thus the wisdom characteristic of Jesus even as a young child is a sign of the presence of the Spirit of God. This is also true, it would seem, with regard to the word “favor” (xa/ri$), which has served as a kind of keyword in the narrative. You may recall that it is part of the name Yôµ¹n¹n (/n`j*oy), and its meaning: “Yah(weh) has shown favor” (cf. the earlier note on vv. 13-17). The Greek word xa/ri$ (“favor”) is especially prominent in the scene of the Angelic annunciation to Mary (cf. the note on 1:32-35). The favor (of God) extends to those touched by Jesus’ birth, beginning with Mary—1:28, 30, and note the underlying idea expressed in vv. 42-43, 45, 48ff; 2:14, etc. It hardly need be pointed out, that the use of xa/ri$ (usually translated “grace”) by Paul in his letters reflects a specialized theological understanding of the term. Here we see it used in the wider, more general sense of favor shown by God to human beings.

The concluding notice in Lk 2:40 is repeated in verse 52, following the additional episode from Jesus’ childhood (vv. 41-50):

“And Yeshua cut forward in wisdom and growth, and favor alongside God and men.”

This statement again brings together the keywords “wisdom” (sofi/a) and “favor” (xa/ri$), only now this “favor” is divided into two aspects—before God, and before human beings (i.e. from God and men). It is possible that this is an allusion to Prov 3:1-4ff (verse 4): “And you will find favor [/j@]…in the eyes of God and man”. Wisdom is emphasized in this chapter of Proverbs, especially beginning in verse 13. Even more than in Lk 2:40, there is a clear allusion to the Samuel narrative (1 Sam 2:26) in verse 52, the birth and childhood of Samuel serving as a pattern for that of Jesus in this Gospel.

The idea that Jesus grew and progressed in wisdom and favor/grace has proven somewhat problematic for Christians accustomed to emphasizing his deity—often to the exclusion of his (full/true) humanity. However, the notices in Lk 2:40, 52 must be taken seriously, as the language used by the author leaves no doubt that he is referring to ordinary (and natural) human growth and development. The verb au)ca/nw in verse 40 is a primary verb meaning “grow”, used especially in the sense of trees/vegetation growing and bearing fruit. In verse 52, the verb is proko/ptw, literally “cut forward”, i.e. advance, progress, often in a social, professional or educational context; note the similar usage in Gal 1:14. Jesus’ growth and development (his “cutting forward”) is explained and stated carefully, according to three elements:

  • sofi/a (“wisdom”)—this would seem to indicate growth in (human) understanding and discernment, especially in religious matters related to God (cf. vv. 46-47ff); however, wisdom also is a mark of the Spirit and presence of God, especially in light of a Messianic passage such as Isa 11:2 (cf. above)
  • h(liki/a (“growth”)—that is, ordinary physical growth, either in the sense of age or of size/stature (Lk 12:25 par; 19:3; Jn 9:21ff).
  • xa/ri$ (“favor”)—this word also refers to the effect (or result) of Jesus’ growth and progress; even as God increasingly showed favor to him, so also did his fellow human beings (cf. 2:47; 4:22)

With regard to the last point, the scene (4:16-30) of Jesus’ return to his hometown (Nazareth) is important for a correct understanding and interpretation. As a guest speaker, he reads and comments on the Scripture (Isa 61:1-2), and, initially at least, the response of the congregation would seem to be positive:

“And all witnessed about him, and wondered upon the words of favor [xa/ri$] traveling out of his mouth…” (4:22)

Here we see both sides of the “favor”—what he is able to say, and the impression it leaves on other people (note also the reference in v. 15). However, a different kind of favor is given emphasis in the scene, represented by the initial words quoted from the Scripture (a Messianic passage): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, on account of which he has anointed me…” (Isa 61:1f, verse 18). The reference to the Spirit ties back to the idea of Wisdom, but also to the person of Jesus, who, at this point in his life, after his baptism (3:21-22) and time in the desert (4:1-13), now returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (v. 14, cf. also verse 1). This certainly reflects some manner of growth and development, though just how one defines it is a matter of some dispute. At the very least, the Synoptic tradition records two threshold events—Jesus’ baptism and his temptation in the desert. Neither of these takes place until Jesus had reached a certain point in life—a particular age and level of growth. Luke, among all the Gospels, gives to this a relatively high degree of realistic detail (3:1-2, 23ff; 4:15, 16ff) which should not be ignored.

For more detail on the text of Lk 2:40 & 52, cf. my earlier Christmas note on these verses.

January 3: Luke 2:29-32

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Luke 2:29-32

Today’s note is on Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon. I dealt with this passage extensively in a series of Advent notes. Here I will be looking it from the standpoint of the Messianic expectation, common among Jews and Christians of the period, and how it has been modified in the Lukan Infancy narrative, being reflective of early Christian belief and expression. The last two lines of the Song of Simeon (vv. 31-32), in particular, manifest this new understanding, much as we see also in the last lines of the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, 1:78-79). The early Christian (and Lukan) interpretation is rooted in the use of certain key passages from the book of Isaiah, especially the so-called “Servant songs” of Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-55, etc).

In yesterday’s note, I mentioned again the parallels between Zechariah and Simeon, and the two oracle-hymns (Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis) attributed to each. It will be helpful to examine the relevant (concluding) lines of each hymn, to gain a better sense of how this Messianic expectation was applied to Jesus. There were a number of Messiah figure-types known from the Qumran texts and other writings of the period, but two were especially prominent in the Gospel tradition (cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“):

  1. The Prophet like Elijah who would appear prior to the great Judgment, bringing God’s people to repentance—drawn primarily from Malachi 3:1ff and the interpretation in 4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24].
  2. A coming Ruler (King) from the line of David who will judge/subdue the nations, deliver God’s people, and bring about the restoration of Israel. For the Scriptural background of this figure, cf. Part 6 of the aforementioned series.

By the time the Gospels came to be written, early Christian tradition had identified these two figure-types as being fulfilled by John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively. Here in the Lukan Infancy narrative, the hymn of Zechariah focuses on John the Baptist, while the Song of Simeon is centered on the child Jesus.

In Luke 1:76 John the Baptist is clearly identified as the Messenger (Elijah, cf. verse 17) who prepares the way before the Lord, as we see well-established in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3ff par; Lk 7:27; Jn 1:19-23ff). Through his preaching and ministry of baptism, John turns the hearts and minds of people back to God, preparing them for the coming of the Lord, the Anointed One (Christ). This emphasis on repentance introduces the motif of salvation from sin—”to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins” (v. 77). The religious (and eschatological) background of this idea of salvation is very much related to the coming Judgment—only those who repent and return to God will escape (i.e. be saved from) the anger and judgment of God upon humankind. In verse 78, however, the emphasis shifts to salvation as an expression of God’s mercy; for similar wording, cf. the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Zebulun 8; Levi 4). The judgment imagery and vocabulary is transformed, centered here on the verb e)piske/ptomai (“look [carefully] upon”), which came to be a technical term for the end-time appearance (visitation) of God, both to help/save his people and to bring the Judgment. Only now, a different sort of visitation is described—of a revelatory light from heaven, shining upon human beings (God’s people) trapped in darkness. As previously discussed (cf. the note on vv. 69, 78-79) the “rising up” (a)natolh/) is best understood by the image of a sun or star which gives the light (of God) from out of heaven (Num 24:17; Isa 60:1ff; Mal 4:2, etc). The image of people—God’s people—sitting in darkness and shadow comes primarily from Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7 (cf. also Psalm 107:9-10).

Similarly, in the Simeon episode, the child Jesus is identified as the Anointed One (2:26)—that is, the Messianic figure-type of the end-time ruler from the line of David (cf. 1:32-33, 69; 2:11). An interesting shift has taken place, however; instead of the idea of salvation from the wicked nations (the enemies of Israel, cf. 1:70-71) etc, this figure is now identified with salvation itself. Note the similarity of language between 2:26 and 30:

“…until he should see the Anointed of the Lord
“…my eyes have seen your Salvation

Two parallel expressions are involved:

  • the Anointed (One) [xristo/$] of the Lord
  • the Salvation [swthri/a] of the Lord

In other words, the salvation which the Lord (Yahweh) brings for his people is embodied in the person of the Anointed One (Jesus). The “Lord” in vv. 29ff is referenced, not by the regular Greek term ku/rio$ (ky¡rios), but by the less common despo/th$ (despót¢s). This word more properly means “master, owner”, and better fits the master-slave motif in verse 29. However, it is generally synonymous with the Hebrew °¹dôn (cf. the earlier article on this title), and, occasionally, like ku/rio$, was used to render the divine name YHWH (cf. the prior note on v. 29 and the article on Yahweh). Earlier in the hymn of Zechariah (v. 69), the Messiah (Jesus) was described as a “horn of salvation” raised up by the Lord—not just the means of deliverance, or the one who accomplishes it, but salvation itself, from the power of sin enslaving all of humankind. This reflects the essential meaning and character of the name Yeshua/Jesus (Matt 1:21 [note], and cf. Luke 2:11).

There are two aspects of this salvation-theme in verses 31-32 (cp. 1:77-79):

  • Light/Darkness imagery, and
  • The people (of God) / peoples on earth

Light—specifically light to/for the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10), an extension of the basic image in 1:78-79 (Isa 9:2ff, cf. Matt 4:15-16). This clearly relates to the early Christian motif of revelation through the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6). I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in a recent article, and you will find there an extensive listing of relevant Scripture references. In particular, note the strong identification of Jesus himself as light in the Gospel (and letters) of John—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-10.

People(s)—In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the original idea of the “people of God” was based on the ethnic-religious premise that God chose Israel out of all the peoples (nations) on earth, and established a special covenant with them. That the Messiah (i.e. the Davidic ruler) would come out of Israel—that is, out of Judah (the line of David), to rule over all Israel—was axiomatic, and would scarcely have been questioned by anyone at the time. This meant that salvation and deliverance comes out of Israel (Isa 46:13; Rom 4:5; Jn 4:22, etc), and, in the traditional religious sense, was intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the faithful among God’s people (Israel). In the (later) Prophets, however—and, especially, in the second half of the book of Isaiah (‘Deutero-Isaiah’)—the idea becomes more prevalent that this covenant relationship will reach outward to the surrounding nations, and that other peoples will come to join Israel as part of God’s people (cf. Isa 49:6, 22; 56:3-8; 60:3-7; 66:18ff, etc).

This shift in focus was an important element of early Christian thought, associated with the mission to the Gentiles—cf. throughout the book of Acts, and, especially, in two key passages: (1) Paul’s statement regarding the inauguration of his mission to the Gentiles (13:46ff, citing Isa 49:6), and (2) the declaration by James in 15:14-17 (citing Amos 9:11-12). The reference to “all the peoples” in Lk 2:31 is parallel to the expression “all flesh” in 3:6: “all flesh will see the salvation of God” (cf. Isa 40:5). Thus it is declared that the nations will join with Israel—and this is to Israel’s honor/glory (v. 32)—to become the people of God. This new religious identity is no longer ethnic, but multi-national and trans-ethnic—it belongs to Jews and Gentiles equally, and is based on trust/belief in Jesus Christ. This, of course, will be developed considerably throughout the Gospel and Acts (not to mention the letters of Paul), but is foreshadowed and foretold by Simeon here. From the standpoint of the (historical) narrative, the process of people coming to trust in Christ begins with the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews). This is the basis of the second part of Simeon’s oracle in vv. 34-35:

“This (child) is laid out unto the falling and rising-up of many in Israel, and unto a sign being counted [i.e. spoken] against…so that the counting through [i.e. thoughts, reasoning] out of many hearts will be uncovered.”

We have come a long way here from the traditional Messianic figure-types (cf. above); the concept of salvation has even shifted from the idea of repentance and salvation from sin to something subtler and more universal—the very thought-process, the mind and thinking, of human beings. The light of Christ reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of the person. The faithful ones, the believers, will respond to that light (Jn 3:19-21), and so become the true people of God in Christ.

January 2: Luke 2:26

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Luke 2:26

Verses 25-26 introduce the Simeon episode, following vv. 22-24 (cf. the previous note) and also continuing the important Temple-setting of the Lukan narrative. I have already discussed this passage as part of an earlier Advent series of notes on Lk 2:29-32. With regard to the figure of Simeon, there is a definite parallel with Zechariah, as there is between the hymn of Zechariah (Benedictus, 1:67-79) and the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis, 2:29-32). Here are the main points in common:

  • Devout, aged men who serve in the Temple or frequent it (1:8-9ff; 2:25-27)
  • Each is specifically referred to as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$) (1:6; 2:25)
  • Each man is touched/filled by the Spirit and utters an inspired oracle (1:67; 2:27)
  • Each oracle includes a prophecy regarding the destiny of the respective child (John/Jesus) and the role he will play in God’s deliverance of His people (1:76-79; 2:30ff, 34-35)
  • In the narrative, each man is associated with a corresponding female figure (Elizabeth/Anna) who also is inspired or functions as a prophet (1:5, 41ff; 2:36ff)
  • Linguistically, their names have a similar meaning:
    • Z§½aryâ[hû] (Why]r=k^z+)—”Yah(weh) has remembered”
    • Šim®±ôn, presumably shortened for Š§ma±-°E~l or Š§ma±-Yah—”El/Yah has heard”

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Looking more closely at verse 25, we find three significant characteristics of Simeon:

  • “just/righteous [di/kaio$] and taking good (care) [eu)labh/$] (i.e. in religious matters)”
  • “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • “the holy Spirit was upon him”

These three phrases may be further explained or summarized:

  • Faithfulness to the Torah and the religion of Israel—the Old Covenant
  • Expectation of the coming Anointed One (Messiah) and the restoration of Israel—the Messianic Age
  • Foreshadowing of the new Age of the Spirit—the New Covenant in Christ

These are then three aspects—past, present and future—of God’s saving work and relationship with his people. Simeon stands at a transition point between the old (Torah) and new (Christ), a meeting which takes places as he holds the child Jesus in his arms, in the precincts of the Temple.

In the earlier note, I discussed the meaning and significance of the word para/klhsi$ (lit. “calling [someone] alongside”), which is parallel to the word lu/trwsi$ in v. 38; note how this fills out the Simeon/Anna parallel (cp. with Zechariah/Elizabeth):

  • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem”

Both terms refer to a belief in God’s coming (future/end-time) deliverance of his people—para/klhsi$ meaning “help, aid, assistance” more generally, and lu/trwsi$ specifically as the “redemption” (payment, etc) made to free his people from debt/bondage. As I had noted, both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. The Song of Simeon likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

The Messianic context of the scene here in Luke comes clearly into view in verse 26:

“And the matter was made (known) to him, under the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death until he should see the Anointed of the Lord.”

This is the second occurrence in Luke of the title “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$), the first being in the Angel’s annunciation to the shepherds in 2:11 (cf. the note on 2:10-14). Each word of that brief declaration carries Messianic significance, especially the names and titles involved:

  • “Savior” (Swth/r)
  • “Anointed One” (Xristo/$)
  • “Lord” (Ku/rio$)
  • “city of David” (po/li$ Daui/d)

The titles “Anointed One” and “Lord” are combined also here in v. 26, but in the more traditional genitive/construct expression “Anointed (One) of the Lord” (xristo\$ [tou=] kuri/ou). In verse 11, on the other hand, according to the best reading, the titles are in apposition—”(the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord”. In the former (v. 26), the “Lord” is Yawheh/El, God the Father; for instances of this expression, cf. 1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23, etc., as well as the important reference in Psalm 2:2. In the latter instance (v. 11), the Anointed One (Messiah) himself is identified as “Lord”, almost certainly under the influence of the (Messianic) interpretation of Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). As previously discussed, early Christians could use the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”) equally of God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus. Such usage, in and of itself, does not necessarily indicate a specific view of Jesus’ deity, which was understood by early Christians in a variety of ways. In the early preaching of Acts (2:36), for example, the titles xristo/$ and ku/rio$ are applied to Jesus in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Eventually, both titles virtually became second names of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 15:26; 20:21; 28:31, et al), reflecting both his identity as the Messiah (Christ) and his (divine) nature and status as the Son of God.

The use of xristo/$ here in Lk 2:26 should be understood strictly in the sense of the expected ruler (from the line of David) who would deliver God’s people and bring about the restoration of Israel. Many Jews at the time would have viewed this in terms of a socio-political and cultural restoration (cf. Acts 1:6; Ps Sol 17-18), much as we see expressed in the hymn of Zechariah. There the Messiah (to be identified with Jesus) is referred to as a “horn of salvation” raised up by God, by which God has “made redemption [lu/trwsi$, cf. above]” for his people (vv. 68-69). This deliverance is described first in terms of rescue from human enemies (vv. 71ff), but, by the end of the hymn, this has shifted to the idea of salvation from sin (vv. 77ff). Based on the Zechariah-Simeon parallel, I am inclined to see the Song of Simeon (2:29-32) as corresponding generally with the last strophe (vv. 76-79) of the Benedictus. In particular, verses 78-79 have a good deal in common with 2:30-32. This will be examined in a bit more detail in the next Christmas season note.

January 1: Luke 2:23

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Luke 2:23

Verses 22-24 follow v. 21 (cf. the previous note), continuing the theme of fulfilling the requirements, etc, of the Law. Verse 22 begins with the same opening formula, marking the particular time—”when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled”. Here, the “days” being referenced are the forty days after childbirth (for a male child) when the mother is in a state of impurity (Lev 12:2-8). The plural pronoun “their” (au)tw=n) probably anticipates the verbal phrase which follows—”they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] brought him up into Jerusalem”. It is unlikely that the Gospel writer thought that both Joseph and Mary required cleansing in connection with childbirth. The period of time completes the “days” of verse 21—7 days before circumcision, 33 before purification. This detail also serves the narrative purpose of explaining why Joseph and Mary would be in Jerusalem at the Temple. Indeed, mention of the purification ritual frames the episode (vv. 22 and 24); in between, in verse 23, the focus is on the reason/purpose of Jesus’ presence in the Temple. This verse almost has the appearance of a secondary insertion; note how vv. 22 and 24 would otherwise join together:

“And when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled, they brought him [i.e. Jesus] up into Yerushalem, to stand (him) alongside the Lord…
…and to give a (ritual) slaughtering [i.e. sacrifice] according to the (regulation) stated (by God) in the Law of the Lord…”

This literary device creates the impression that the author has confused or conflated two different Torah laws—(1) those related to the mother’s purification after childbirth (the sacrifice is part of this regulation), and (2) the redemption of the firstborn male child (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16). Yet it is never stated that the latter command was fulfilled at the Temple. Some commentators believe that the author had the mistaken idea that the firstborn male needed to be presented in Jerusalem (at the Temple). But, if this were the case, there would be little reason for him to confuse matters by introducing the detail of the purification ritual for Mary. In my view, it is much more likely that the author used the occasion of the purification ritual to introduce the motif of the consecration of the firstborn within that setting and context. The result is somewhat awkward, and certainly open to misunderstanding, but it very much suits the author’s creative purpose—of blending together several different fulfillment themes: (a) fulfillment of the Law, (b) fulfillment of Scripture, and (c) Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament.

The specific Scripture quoted in v. 23 is a adaptation of Exod 13:2 (cf. also v. 15b, Num 18:15). The centrality of this quotation puts the emphasis of the scene, not on the purification ritual, but rather the tradition of the consecration of the firstborn male child—as one dedicated to (religious/priestly) service to God. In Israelite religion and society, this role was taken over by the tribe of Levi (as a kind of priestly caste or class), with the 5-shekel payment (redemption) made to them in exchange. The passages in the Torah dealing with this issue (and its underlying theological principle) are Exod 13:1-2, 11-16; 22:29b-30; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:11-13, 44-51; 8:14-18; 18:15-16ff.

This consecration motif is expressed by the author in the narrative as a presentation of the child before God (at the Temple), in a manner similar to that of Samuel in 1 Sam 1:22-24ff. The priority of this is indicated by the syntax in Lk 2:22-24, the two purpose infinitives:

  • parasth=sai tw=| qew=| “to stand (him) alongside God”
  • dou=nai qusi/an “to give sacrifice”

Both verbal phrases reflect religious offerings to God. The second (“give sacrifice”) refers to the sacrificial (burnt) offering of two doves/pigeons which completes the purification process for the mother (Mary) following childbirth (cf. above). The second is a separate (voluntary) offering of the child, dedicating it to the service of God. There is almost certainly an allusion to the Samuel Infancy narrative here, as already noted. In 1 Sam 1:22, Hannah declares her intention to bring the child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that “he may be seen (before) the face of YHWH, and sit down [i.e. dwell/remain] there until (the most) distant (time) [i.e. for ever]”. This she fulfills at the appropriate time, according to vv. 24-28. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a similar use of the verb pari/sthmi (“stand/place alongside”) in the sacrificial sense of believers presenting themselves before God as holy offerings (cf. Rom 6:13-19; 12:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Col 1:22, 28; Eph 5:27).

Looking at the central verse 23 a bit more closely, one finds three key elements which make up its structure, and which I would arrange as a chiastic outline:

  • “written in the Law of the Lord”—Scripture/Law (cp. “Law of Moses”, v. 22)
    —”every male child opening…”—the (physical) birth of the firstborn male child
  • “will be called holy to the Lord”—dedication/consecration of the child (naming)

The expression “will be called holy” (a%gion klhqh/setai) points back to the words of the Angel to Mary in 1:35: “the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy [a%gion klhqh/setai], (the) Son of God”. It is essentially a title of Jesus, as we see in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Acts 2:27; 13:35 [both citing Ps 16:10]; Luke 4:34 par; John 6:69; 1 Jn 2:20; Rev 3:7; 16:5). It reflects an ancient Divine name or title—i.e. “Holy (One)” (vodq*, Q¹dôš)—that is, of Yahweh/El as the “Holy One (of Israel)”, cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, etc. There is an echo of this in the Magnificat (Lk 1:49, cf. Psalm 99:3). I would also mention again the theory, discussed in a recent note, that the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23 essentially is Isa 4:3 (“he will be called [a] holy one”), with wordplay involving the substitution Nazîr—”he will be called a Nazîr” (Nazirite–Nazorean). The Nazirite association may seen unusual at first, until one realizes that it is an element of both the Samuel and Samson birth narratives (1 Sam 1:9-15; Judg 13:4-7; 16:17), which find an echo in the Lukan narrative (e.g. Lk 1:13-15). Parallels with the Samuel story have already been mentioned here (above), and will be discussed again in the remaining notes.

The fundamental meaning of the root verb rz~n` (n¹zar) is to separate or “keep apart (from)”, often in a religious or ritual context. It is thus synonymous, to some extent, with the verb vd^q* (q¹daš), and a n¹zîr, a separated/consecrated person, can also be called q¹dôš (“holy one”). John the Baptist was set apart and consecrated to God (“filled by the holy Spirit”) from the womb (1:15), using language from the birth of Samson. Similarly, Jesus could be called “the Holy One” from even before the moment of his conception (1:32, 35), and was dedicated to God in the Temple, following the pattern of Samuel.